Students: The Priority

Published 3:15 pm Wednesday, February 12, 2014

BUCKINGHAM — Something that is more important than other things and that needs to be done or dealt with first is a priority.

Every living thing on earth has priorities, from humans to insects.

And setting them is just as important as knowing them.

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Buckingham County’s primary and elementary schools, at the Carter G. Woodson Educational Complex, number one priority is its students.

Their learning, development, and well-being are all important to school teachers, administrators, staff, not only within the two schools, but across the division.

In September, the two schools were designated as Title I Priority schools by the federal government, meaning they’re within five percent of the lowest-performing Title I schools in Virginia, according to results based on federal Annual Measureable Objectives (AMO’s).

The school and division’s administrators are taking the priority school status and making it a positive tool to focus on students.

“The reason we’re doing the campaign is because we have different indicators…that we have to meet the objectives, and one happens to talk a lot about the community and our stakeholders,” explained elementary school principal Cindy O’Brien.

“What we’re trying to do is…promote our students to let them know that our students are our priority, and it also lets the students know that they’re a priority and they understand what that means. And, like today, we made sure everyone understood the purpose of the campaign…They could tell you what it meant, because we made sure that every single child had the same lesson and they understood that they are important…” O’Brien told The Herald in her office during the day of the kick-off of the campaign.

The principal explained that during the day, students and their teachers listed their priorities on whiteboards in the classrooms.

“It puts a focus on them of what’s important to them and what they need to do as well,” O’Brien added, saying that the campaign will continue for the duration of the school year and probably into next year.

“We can use that in a lot of ways…It really lends itself nicely to other things as well.”

Goal setting with students will be a large part of the program, she told the paper.

The community will see students, teachers, and staff donning light-blue tee shirts with phrases like “Our students are our priority,” on the back, in addition to seeing square yard signs across the county, promoting the students at the schools.

“It does take a whole village to raise a child. I think that this definitely sends that message out,” she added.

“We constantly have different goals that we have to meet with our school improvement plan, so this will be incorporated in a lot of things,” O’Brien said while wearing her campaign shirt, commenting that students have been working on the I-Ready reading and math program, setting academic and learning goals for themselves during the day.

“It’s how we feel about our students…Our vision, people will be able to see this hopefully and will be as excited as we are about the changes that we’re seeing in the schools.”

During the day, Division Superintendent Dr. Cecil Snead and District Six School Board Member Thomas Hutcherson, along with other administrators, visited many classrooms within the complex to see how the students were responding to the campaign.

“I’ve been very impressed with the kick-off,” Hutcherson, a former building trades instructor, told The Herald while walking through the school hallway. “The children are all wearing their blue shirts and are really responding to what the priority school, what it really means to them, the fact that they say ‘I’m important’ makes them glean…I was so happy to see that…”

“I think what it means for me, especially as a superintendent, is to really see the kids, faculty, staff, all administration, all of us just buying in to what the priority is. The kids can articulate that it’s important,” Snead said while walking with Hutcherson from classroom to classroom.

“And not only do they know they’re important, but they understand what that means, such as making sure they have their rest in the evening, that they eat correctly, that they organize their day in a manner so they can be successful.”

Snead says the campaign puts a focus on student learning. “And if we can keep this momentum, we keep it going, as we move throughout the days, I think we’ll really have something.”

Former teacher Pennie Allen, who now serves as principal of the primary school, says it’s a very exciting time for students at the complex.

“We’re really excited about the many things that we’re going to be able to do here. Our big vision is to empower our students to love learning. And I see that enthusiasm in the teachers that I think is going to transfer to the students. And we’re trying to get the community involved with us. I’m keeping my school community up-to-date with the work of our school improvement team…We have such a dedicated bunch of teachers,” Allen cited.

She says the schools are building support for the priority campaign throughout the county.

“We want to join hands with the community, and all come together with education as a priority.”

In September, Snead explained during a telephone interview with The Herald that, “Specifically what led to the priority school status, is we missed the percent passing rate of 66 percent in the all students group in reading and we missed (the) all students pass rate of 64 percent in mathematics.” Snead continued, saying that if a school received Title I funds, and missed the all students pass rate for the federal AMO’s in reading and math, the school then becomes eligible to become designated as a priority school.